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art by Steven R. Stewart

Counting Coup

Kat Otis is a 2009 graduate of Uncle Orson's Literary Boot Camp and her work has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Her driver's license claims she is a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, but as she has lived in four different time zones during the past three years, she is inclined to be skeptical.

Meztli and the other boys of his year-group snuck into the Daylighter village just before dawn. One by one, they split off from the group as they each chose their targets. The more timid boys picked the yards of houses near the edge of the village, with easy access and a quick escape afterwards. The more cocky cracked open windows and doors, slipping right into the homes of the sleeping Daylighters. Meztli was neither timid nor cocky--he picked a house with a walled garden that would earn him extra notches on his coup stick, but he had no intention of going inside the house itself.
He scaled the wall and found the family had left their laundry out drying on a clothesline. Perfect. He ghosted across the garden and pulled down an article of clothing at random.
"Could you take another one, please?"
Meztli jumped and spun towards the voice. "Who's there?" Was one of the other boys playing a joke on him? If so, it wasn't funny.
"Only me." A girl sat up from the shadows beneath a bush. "My name's Dysis and that's my favorite skirt, because it matches my eyes. Are you a Nightlander? Ize says Nightlanders steal stuff to prove their manhood. Is that why you're here?"
Meztli frowned at the girl, suspicious. Daylighters were all supposed to be night-blind, the same way Nightlanders were day-blind. "How can you see me?"
"My mother caught moonblink while she was pregnant with me," Dysis said. "So I can see in the dark. Well, not colors, but shapes and shadows and stuff."
"That's all anyone can see in the dark," Meztli said, inching closer, curious now. He'd never talked to a Daylighter before and she seemed to be about his age.
"Ha! I told Ize so, but he didn't believe me, he said Nightlanders must see different. How can you live without colors?"
"I can see colors," Meztli said, crouching down just out of touching distance. "At dawn and dusk, before it gets too bright out. Who's Ize?"
"My brother. He doesn't like me much, but our parents are dead and no one else will take me. They say I'm strange and touched in the head and talk too much."
Meztli smirked. Strange didn't even begin to describe the girl. "You do talk a lot."
"I think they don't like me because they're jealous," Dysis said, warming to the topic. "It's really because I can go out in the dark and they can't. Ize says if I'm not careful a Nightlander will get me." She considered that for a moment. "Would you ever steal a person?"
"No," Meztli laughed. "The whole point of counting coup is not to be seen. If I stole a Daylighter, I'd have been seen, wouldn't I?"
"Oh." Dysis bit her lip. "I'm sorry. Should I go back inside and pretend I didn't see you?"
The offer was tempting, but... "That would be cheating." Meztli held the skirt out towards her. "Here. Since you caught me."
Dysis took the skirt and folded it on her lap. "Do I get notches for catching you? That's how it works, right? You notch a stick each time you steal something?"
"That's three notches," Meztli said, pointing at the skirt. "Because I had to climb a wall. It would have been five if it was in your house."
"So I should get three notches. How many notches do you have?"
"Forty-two," Meztli said. "When I have a hundred, I'll be a man."
"Oh. I guess I won't be catching up with you anytime soon."
Dysis sounded so disappointed, that Meztli couldn't help but try to cheer her up. "It depends," he teased, "on whether or not you keep catching me."
She brightened. "I'd like that. To see you again, I mean. You actually listen to me."
An awkward silence rose between them as the sky began to lighten and color flooded into the world. Meztli squinted into the growing light, fascinated by the pupils in her eyes, which contracted to reveal irises the same moss green as her skirt.
Dysis abruptly leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. Her cheeks reddened as she turned and ran to the door of her house. There she hesitated, one hand on the knob, and turned back to him.
Meztli shaded his aching eyes, just barely able to make out the mischievous smile on her face as she said, "Tonight, I've twenty-one notches."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Author Comments

I've never been good at keeping my stories short, so when the annual CodexWriters.com flash fiction contest came around, I decided it was time to work on that. Every weekend for five weeks, we had to write a story of 750 words or less. My first few stories were novels-in-waiting, but by week five I finally made peace with the whole word limit thing. This story is the result.

- Kat Otis
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